“How did she do that?” That’s a question you’ll likely ask yourself throughout Paper Routes – GA Women to Watch 2020. The exhibition at MOCA GA (through March 7) features 29 works of art by Georgia-based artists Jerushia Graham (Atlanta), Sanaz Haghani and Imi Hwangbo (Athens), Lucha Rodríguez (Decatur) and Whitney Stansell (College Park). It comes from the Georgia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Paper Routes — not to be confused with paper kites / uncertain sky at Whitespace — spotlights emerging and underrepresented artists from states and countries in which the National Museum has outreach committees. These exhibitions are held only every two or three years and feature unique media or themes — Heavy Metal in 2018, for example, and Organic Matters in 2015. Paper Routes is the sixth in the series and the largest to date. This is Georgia’s third time as a participant.
The Georgia five were chosen from 20-some candidates through a lot of studio visits. The show is guest curated by Michael Rooks, the High Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary art curator, assisted by the High’s Carson Keith.
Before the entryway to the show, MOCA GA recognizes 16 artists previously represented in National Museum exhibits. It may be easy to speed through this space, but don’t. You’ll better appreciate Paper Routes if you take time to watch the short documentaries about the artists’ processes (produced by Atlanta filmmaker Janey Fugate).
Dare to stare, lean in and expect to see paper as media versus works on paper. The artwork features multidimensional paper manipulations — from folds, layers and stacks to sculpture, patterns, color and even handmade variations. There’s a serendipitous quality to the show, since 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Each paper-obsessed artist presents visual declarations of life’s constructs and cutbacks, and dreams and divisions, as well as space and solitude.
Jerushia Graham’s Undercurrents series (2019) first appears as figurative drawings. Up close, you’ll notice that varying shapes and lines invite you to interact with each soul in tandem with the titles: Defy, Persevere, Protect, Reflect, Support and Witness. She uses an X-ACTO blade and a Japanese screw punch to cut, a process that takes two weeks. Each finished piece takes two months to complete. Even the hair, skin and clothing engage as art in currents of water as if to ask, “Do you see my life as half full or half empty . . . and why?”
There’s strength in Sanaz Haghani’s work, which serves as a badge of honor. “With a knife, once you make that cut, you can’t get it back,” she says. “It’s aggressive and precious at the same time.” Haghani, originally from Iran, uses red and black to address the duality of the forbidden, political perspectives of women’s situations in public places.
Being Denied (2017–present) employs 80 individual squares of handmade red paper with screen prints of women. Carefully layered behind each woman is newsprint in Farsi that tells true stories about the struggles and injustices women face. Many of the stories are duplicated, however; six or seven are true, she says. Haghani’s art announces that she hears these women’s hearts. The stories are unreadable, but there’s a bit of curious discomfort in knowing they are there.
Her Forgotten Identity installation (2019–20) features 36-by-30-inch handmade paper and woodcut prints to represent chādor, the black cloth that Iranian women wear to disguise/hide their bodies. She places 100 or so small-scale figures in gatherings that are just as somber — until you see hopefulness in several touched by flower and bird patterns, resembling forms found on some Iranian paper.
Delicate details blossom in Imi Hwangbo’s archival ink on hand-cut Mylar, including Sanctuary (2020) and the large-scale, floor centerpiece Mitosis (2003). “Pojagi,” traditional and decorative four-cornered Korean wrapping and carrying cloths, inspires much of her work. Consider the edges. Hwango’s patterns use up to 30 layers and often “incorporate a sculpted space within the patterns,” she says in exhibition materials.
Lucha Rodríguez believes that art starts from questioning what paper can do. Some answers are found in five pieces from her series Knife Drawing Papagayo (2019). Her work explores the hierarchy of lines and controlling shapes that “move with the light” of subtle colors, each comprising more than 10,000 superficial cuts. Rodríguez says there’s a process of self that takes place, a “willingness of human power of small actions to make change and transform.” Her creative expertise serves double duty for intricately shaped shapes and patterned patterns, and explores the light of “new lines, new divisions and a sense of resistance.”
Whitney Stansell’s Past. Present. Continuous series (2010) offers whimsy and self-reflection through stories from her mother’s childhood. Stansell uses cut paper and water-based media in her 1950s’ storybook imagery to evokes a simplicity. The longer you stay, the more she wants you to “explore hope and loss.” This narrative is seen in her stark, hand-cut, hand-sewn hanging dress with ties stretched to its surroundings. The burden of memory is reminiscent here, whether it’s one that lingers or evolves. Stansell offers us a sense of playfulness with Forrest (2020), a fascinating 3-foot (diameter) zoetrope. Be sure to peek inside and consider whether the little girl is running from her past or moving toward her destiny.
The works here have a commonality yet are individually expressive. The five artists identify experiences and explore the unknown, challenging themselves — and us — to hope. Fearlessness makes them Georgia women to watch. They cut to the roots of who and what we think we know, and give room to go beyond what’s on the surface.